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AWSM statement on Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion was established in the United Kingdom in October
2018 as a movement that aims to use tactics of nonviolent direct action
in order to avert the effects of climate change. Since its formation it
has rapidly spread to at least 35 other countries, including New
Zealand, who have recently carried a few headline-grabbing protests,
with the promise of more to come.

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement are encouraged by the fact that the
movement has managed to tap into the sense of alarm over climate change,
and mobilised many people not previously involved in protest, and we do
not want to undermine the important work that they are doing, but we
feel that there is a conversation that needs to be had about some of
their demands.

While we support the means of using direct action tactics it is their
ends that needs greater examination. Extinction Rebellion is essentially
a reformist movement, whose earnest activists lack a real vision of what
is needed if we are serious about halting the damage to our environment.
Instead, they are pinning their hopes on merely making adjustments to
the present system which is destroying our world.

We argue that this isn’t enough, and the only way to effectively
campaign to halt climate change is to impart a true picture of a
capitalism whose insatiable hunger for profit is not only undermining
the working and living conditions of hundreds of millions of working
people but the basis of life itself. The future of our planet depends on
building a livable environment and a movement powerful enough to
displace capitalism.

Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ are guilty of thinking that their
demands can create an idyllic capitalism, managed by the state, that can
end the destruction being caused to the Earth’s environment They see
their role as just needing to make enough noise to wake up political and
business leaders. Theirs is a view which sees capitalism moving towards
sustainability and zero growth. It is the idea that capitalism can be
reformed to become a green system. In this model of capitalist society
lifestyles change and infrastructure are reformed while technical green
advances are applied. It supposes that all would be well if we all
bought organic food, never took a holiday anywhere which would involve
flying, and put on more clothes in winter rather than turn up the
heating. Green capitalism presumes it will be enough to replace fossil
fuels with renewables, whilst leaving the overall system intact.

We argue that such a scenario completely ignores the way capitalism
operates, and must operate, and is therefore hopelessly utopian. The
present capitalist system is driven by the struggle for profit. The
present system’s need for infinite growth and the finite resources of
Earth stand in contradiction to each other. Successful operation of the
system means growth or maximising profit, it means that nature as a
resource will be exploited ruthlessly. The present destruction of the
planet is rooted in the capitalist system of production and cannot be
solved without a complete break with capitalism. Yet ending capitalism
is something that Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ does not appear to be
prepared to countenance, they are only attacking the symptoms rather
than the cause. They see their green capitalism as a type of capitalism
worth fighting for.

We, rather, see the need to create a different form of social
organisation before the present system destroys us all. The entire
system of production based on wage labour and capital needs to be
replaced with a system which produces for human needs. All the half
measures of converting aspects of capitalism to limit the damage to the
environment, while the fundamentals of capitalism remain in place, are
just wishful thinking, and to pretend they could solve our problems is
deception on a grand scale.

The fact is that before production can be carried out in
ecologically-acceptable ways capitalism has to go. Production for profit
and the uncontrollable drive to accumulate more and more capital mean
that capitalism is by its very nature incapable of taking ecological
considerations into account properly, and to be honest it is futile to
try to make it do so.

A sustainable society that is capable of addressing climate change can
only be achieved within a world where all the Earth’s resources, natural
and industrial, are under the common ownership of us all, as well as
being under grassroots democratic control at a local and regional level.
If we are going to organise production in an ecologically sound way we
can either plead with the powers that be or we can take democratic
control of production ourselves, and the reality is to truly control
production we have to own and control the means of production. So, a
society of common ownership and democratic control is the only framework
within which the aims of Extinction Rebellion can be realised. In
reality, to achieve their wish of halting climate collapse, those within
Extinction Rebellion should be anarchists.

One of the demands of Extinction Rebellion is a call for participatory
democracy, and yet they also talk of giving governments emergency
war-time powers. It’s not altogether clear what they mean by this. Does
it mean, for example, seizing fossil fuel industries and shutting them
down? Enforcing new low-carbon, low-travel, and low-meat shifts in
consumption? Or imposing sanctions against companies or countries
trafficking in fossil fuels? Will it see imprisonment for those whose
protest when they feel their interests may be compromised by green
government legislation?

In the past, warlike conditions and major disasters typically were seen
to justify the temporary abolition of democratic liberties, but how long
will they last for this fight, what will be the endpoint, or will the
special war-time powers last indefinitely? Would such a suspension of
democracy be easy to reverse anyway? These are big questions, and, for
those of us that value the limited freedoms we have, they need to be

Giving more power to the state is also a case of putting all your eggs
in one basket as there is no one simple response to fixing climate
change. Climate change will bring many issues, those that we can have a
go at predicting, but also many unforeseen. Increasing the powers of the
state reduces its ability to be flexible and capable of learning from
policy mistakes. The fight against climate change must be associated
with greater local democracy. We need more democracy, strengthening
local and regional capacities to respond to climate change. For those in
Extinction Rebellion who think that there can be only one pathway to
addressing climate change, the erosion of democracy might seem to be
“convenient.” History, however, tells us that suppression of democracy
undermines the capacity of societies to solve problems.

Those campaigning with Extinction Rebellion are no doubt sincere and
caring people who want something different for themselves and future
generations. In their own lifestyles they probably have made genuine
changes which are in line with a more ecologically sustainable way of
living. So have we, but we are well aware that our individual lifestyle
changes are not going to change the fundamental nature of the social
system which is damaging the planet. Millions of us might give up using
products which destroy the environment, but what effect do we really
have in comparison with the minority who own and control the
multinational corporations. Just 100 companies have been responsible for
71% of global emissions since 1988. They, and all businesses, have an
interest in keeping their costs down, and profits up. If their profits
come before the long-term interests of people, who can blame them for
sacrificing our needs? They can act no other way.

We do not have faith that capitalists, or their parliamentary
representatives, can act in time to limit climate change in a meaningful
way, but when we make a call for revolution, the answer we mostly get is
that the lesser evil of piecemeal reforms will take less time to achieve
than our grand anarchist aims. However, we think it is an ill-advised
attitude to take that small improvements are more worthy of support than
realisable big ones. There is unlikely ever to be a government passing
meaningful green legislation. Governments may pass a few minor reforms
to appease green voters, the business owners themselves may realise that
some of their brands may be harmed by a lack of environmental concern,
and greenwash their product, but ultimately these acts will be a
sticking plaster when what is required is major surgery.

If anyone concerned with Extinction Rebellion read this and grasps the
impossibility of what they are asking for, then we would say it’s time
to keep the methods of direct action that you are advocating, but change
the demands. If Extinction Rebellion ever wants their arguments to carry
any force, then they need to campaign to abolish capitalism and create a
system of grassroots democracy.

In the UK a Green Anti-Capitalist Front has been created to work
alongside Extinction Rebellion but with a greater focus on the
capitalist roots of climate catastrophe. We feel that such a coalition
is needed here in Aotearoa / New Zealand. If anyone is interested in
working with us to create such a group we can be contacted via our
e-mail address.

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement

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